Friday, September 7, 2012

Chicken.... Delicious Chicken

I don't know about you, but I'm always trying to find new things to do with chicken. There are a couple of reasons for this:

1) Le Spouse of the Fussy Persuasion refuses to eat much else;
2) It's a good low-fat protein option;
3) It's affordable; and
4) It's pretty versatile.

But since I've been with my husband for over 20 years, (23 to be exact), there are only so many times you can make stir-fry chicken, chicken sandwiches, chicken parm, chicken salad, or oven roasted chicken without going insane. My favorite kind of chicken, for the record, is a roast whole chicken. Makes the entire house smell fantastic, it's super easy to make, and the meat falls right off the bone if done right. Whole chickens are also pretty inexpensive and I'm able to pull about 3 meals out of one bird for the 3 of us.

Aside from that tangent, tonight I found a new recipe to add to my chicken bag o'tricks.

The September 2012 issue of Cooking Light magazine features flavorful entrees for less than $2.50 per serving. You know I'm all about the budget meals that are tasty, and are good for us, so I was very pumped to receive this issue.

The recipe I made for dinner tonight was Chicken with Honey-Beer Sauce. Let me tell you something, this recipe was not only super-easy to make, it was also very inexpensive and it took 20 minutes. 20 minutes! And the sauce is FANTASTIC.

Only problem with this recipe was that Le Spouse and I don't drink. And finding just 1/2 cup of beer that the recipe calls for was rather difficult. I don't know if you are aware of this, but most stores do not sell single containers or bottles of beer. And I didn't want to purchase an entire 6-pack when nobody in the house would drink it. Of course, I only looked in grocery stores for it. I probably could have found a tall boy in a convenience store somewhere. Do they sell single cans of beer? It's been a long time since I've bought any and I don't usually look in the convenience stores to check.

I decided that I would substitute 1/2 cup of chicken broth for the 1/2 cup of beer the recipe calls for, and it worked beautifully - gave the sauce a buttery, rich flavor and probably reduced the overall cost of of the dish.

Link to the recipe is here:

It was great - involved barely any chopping, and according to Cooking Light, only costs $2.36 per serving. The only thing I did a bit differently was to pound the breasts down to about 1/2" thickness using saran wrap and a meat mallet, because you want to be sure all the chicken cooks evenly.

The only caution I might have for novice cooks is that you will have to reduce the sauce, which can be daunting. Be sure to keep an eye on it and stir it frequently. When it starts to thicken, add the chicken back to the pan and flip until it's fully coated in the mixture.

It was so delicious that words fail me. Buttery, oniony, tangy but sweet - and the chicken was very moist. I served it with a mixed green salad covered in a light Italian dressing.

I want to make it again and again. If you are a fan of chicken, and are running out of ideas - definitely give this recipe a try. Totally worth it. A solid 5 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Baking with Fondant and GIR

I know, I know - it's been two months since I've posted on here. I'm sorry. Life has just been incredibly busy lately.

A little known factoid about me - I enjoy making custom cakes. I don't do it often enough because I'm generally pressed for time and to do a good custom cake correctly, you really need to go slowly.

My daughter's 10th birthday is tomorrow and in honor of it, I made her a cake of GIR from the cartoon Invader Zim, which shows on Nickelodeon on weekend nights at 11PM. Apparently, this is an older discontinued cartoon from 1995 or so that is making a comeback with a new generation of kids. I started watching it with her and I love the sarcastic/cynical sense of humor regarding society that the writer brings to the cartoon . GIR, in case you are not familiar with him, is a robot that was made out of spare parts (a couple of screws, some bubblegum and spare change). He is sent to Earth with Zim by the Irken leaders to get them out of the way of Operation Impending Doom II. During Operation Impending Doom I, Zim destroyed Irken, so they want him gone. As you can imagine, GIR isn't the brightest light bulb in the pack, so he's always acting oddly. He has a bizarre Southern accent and comes out with the most random stuff. My favorite quote so far is when he fell face down and said, "Hiya, floor! Make me a sammich!" Oh, and to "blend in" with Earthlings, they decided to disguise GIR as a dog (hence the zipper).

You have to have a weird sense of humor, and I do. Sorry for the GIR tangent, by the way. On to cakes with fondant.

Normally, fondant scares the beejeezus out of me. It's usually stiff, sticky, hard to work with, dries out quickly, cracks, doesn't stick to the cake, and I don't like the taste. Too sweet for me. However, I have been using Wilton brand fondant and I have to tell you: don't buy it, if you're going to do a cake. Make your own instead. Wilton wants $10.99 a box and usually the fondant you get is not the right color, it's hard as a rock, and there is never enough of it. Making your own is cheaper, easy, it's pliable and a dream to work with!

To make a batch, all you need are: 8 oz of mini marshmallows (usually 1/2 a bag), 2 tbsp water, and 4 cups powdered sugar. Combine the marshmallows and the water in a bowl and nuke in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir until lumps are gone. Stir in powdered sugar. By the time you get to the 3rd cup of sugar, it's going to be hard going. Pour it out on the counter (make sure the counter has a powdered sugar coating on it, and you coat your hands as well - this is sticky stuff) and massage until the powdered sugar is incorporated and the fondant is smooth. You can then add any food coloring you'd like to make colored fondant. Wrap it in plastic wrap and keep it at room temp. If you're not going to use it for awhile, you can also refrigerate it. Important note: make sure it's wrapped AIRTIGHT or else it will dry out and crack. Also, if you're going to be making black fondant, start with adding chocolate to the original fondant batch and then add the black food coloring. Otherwise, you will have grey fondant, which isn't what you want.

To make the cake pictured below, I made (5) 9 x 9" square cakes, leveled them, and let them sit overnight before I started cutting to let them fully cool and settle. I then stacked the cakes and cut them to a GIR silhouette, based on an internet picture of him and a GIR plastic figure that my daughter owns. I filled the layers (butterscotch buttercream, per her request - yum!) and put on crumb coat #1 using thinned out regular vanilla buttercream frosting. I made the eye pieces out of halved cupcakes, and did the crumb coat for them,.

You may be asking: what is a crumb coat? It's a thin layer (think 1/4") of frosting that picks up stray cake crumbs and smooths out the cake in preparation for the fondant. The smoother your crumb layer, the more beautiful your fondant will look at the end. No bumps or lumps or crumbs. Crumb coats are also useful if you are making a frosted cake that requires a lot of decoration - keeps chocolate crumbs from getting in the frosting and polluting the look of the finished cake.

I refrigerated the cake overnight and added crumb coat #2, then put it into the freezer for 20 minutes to let it set. Pulled it out and smoothed the crumb coat using waxed paper and a fondant smoother - just to make sure it was ready to take the fondant with no lumps or creases.

Important to note that you want the cake to come back to room temp before you add fondant to it, so it sticks. Don't ask me how I found that out :-)

I have to give a special thanks to the Artisan Cake Company, who posted a tutorial for making a GIR cake here: Her step by step directions were priceless, especially for someone who hasn't really worked with fondant before.

My daughter got into the act with me and we sculpted body parts, ears, etc. out of fondant and added them after the crumb coat was ready. What I liked was how easily the fondant went on. What I didn't like is that the body parts are cracking because the fondant is drying out. I think that for my next attempt, gum paste body parts are the way to go. I also had to brush the cake with water to remove excess powdered sugar spots on it.

All in all, not as hard as everyone thinks it is. Lots of fun, you get to use your creative side, and the end result is pretty awesome. However, I will say that I understand now WHY Ace of Cakes charges $500 and up for a custom cake. These things are a lot of work and my kitchen floor is sticky with sugar now. How 3 people (the extent of my family here in CA) are going to eat all of this cake, I don't know.

What GIR is supposed to look like:
What the cake looks like follows.

In the first pic, you can see where I have a weird flap of fondant. I was so happy, because I was worried about the green fondant and nervous I was going to mess the whole thing up, so I was almost done and saying, "Wow! I'm doing it with NO CREASES! I can DO FONDANT!"  and then "Oh, shit! My finger slipped!" The eyes also have some blotches (DD painted the eyes) and there is another finger slip on the left eye, but still pretty good for my first attempt at a real fondant cake.

So, tell me: would you attempt this, or any other kind of customized cake?

Friday, June 1, 2012


It's yummus.

I love this stuff. And since I'm starting a new diet "lifestyle change", I just made a huge batch of it as it is one of my "approved" foods.

As a side note, don't you just love it when nutritionists try to sell you a diet as a lifestyle change? Because they don't want you to think of it as a diet... you go "on" and "off" diets - but a lifestyle change is FOR LIFE (da dun dunnnnn!) Valid point, BUT: if you give me a list of foods that I can and cannot eat, and tell me what quantities I CAN eat.... well, sorry sugar, but that's a diet. Going forward, I prefer to think of it as this: the foods I've been eating are making me sick. If I had an allergy to a food, I'd stop eating it, because  - well, duh - it's obviously something which disagrees mightily with my body. Common sense. So, I'm changing my eating so that I am no longer sick. Eating no more bread as required on this diet may cause me to go insane and take my family with me, but there you have it. She was talking about having me go "gluten-free", but I don't think I want to explore that pathway. Yet. Let's see how "no bread, potatoes or any processed carbohydrates" flies.

Sorry for the off topic rant on the diet... but my mind works in mysterious ways.

Anyway, hummus is a lot easier to make at home than you might think.  I could literally sit down and eat this stuff with a spoon. It's a great dip, sandwich spread, ingredient in a dish, you name it.

Funnily enough, my spouse will not touch the stuff with a 10 foot pole. Yet, he loves a garbanzo bean stew I make for him. I won't touch the garbanzo bean stew with a 10 foot pole, but I will suck up every last particle of hummus I can find. Weird that we both like the chickpea but in different ways.

Recipe follows now:

1 can garbanzo beans (AKA chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp minced garlic
1-2 tbsp tahini*, depending on taste (if you like strong sesame flavor, opt for 2 tbsp)
2-3 tbsp olive oil

Add all ingredients to a food processor/blender except for the olive oil. Pulse the mixture, then gradually add the olive oil while blending until all ingredients are combined. You may want to use slightly more or less oil, depending on how the consistency looks while you are blending - it should be smooth, creamy, but not thin. A spoon should stand up in it, but it should also not be dry and chunky. And all of the chickpeas should be pulverized. Refrigerate when done.

* You may be wondering what the heck tahini is. Actually, it's a mixture of pulverized sesame seeds. I found mine in Ralph's supermarket. You may have to dig for it, as it's not a commonly used ingredient. Before you use it, make sure you stir it extremely well since the oil and the sesame seeds separate in the jar. I think mine was located near the Asian/Mexican/Jewish food section of the store.

Hope you enjoy it - it's much cheaper to make at home and I like to do it because I control what goes into it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Who Wants Donuts? (Or Doughnuts)

My dad is ending his two week visit to my house. He goes home tomorrow. For some reason, he loves the heck out of doughnuts. Not just any doughnuts, cake doughnuts.  What is the difference between a cake doughnut and any other type of doughnut, you ask? Glad to give you the 4-1-1. All my work experience at Dunkin' Donuts those many moons ago is coming screaming back to me now.

There are two types of doughnut dough: yeast and cake. The difference really boils down to the kind of leavening used in the dough. Yeast dough is of a fluffier, more airy consistency and the doughnuts are easily filled and frosted after they are cooked, but they take a lot longer to make due to letting the dough rise, rest, and rise again (also known as "proofing".) Usually, yeast doughnuts will take about 3 hours to make from  from start to finished product.

Cake doughnuts usually use baking powder or baking soda as  leavening and require no proofing time at all. They just go right from the mixer to being rolled out to the fryer. The resulting doughnut is a lot denser, with a crispy outside. They are more difficult to fill because of their texture, so they are usually either glazed, frosted, or dipped in powdered sugar/cinnamon sugar. If you want to get very creative, you can also dip them in glaze and then roll them in some coconut or chopped nuts and let them dry.

My family is divided on the type of doughnuts they like. Hubby prefers yeast doughnuts filled with custard and topped with chocolate frosting (AKA the Boston Creme doughnut). Daughter enjoys both but prefers yeast doughnuts with homemade chocolate frosting, and Dad loves those Old Fashioned doughnuts -- hence, the making of the cake doughnuts.

And you know I would normally post a picture, BUT.... can you believe they ate them all already? And I only just made them 2 hours ago. I guess he doesn't get to take any home with him. Heck, I'll just send him the recipe.

Now, I know you are saying "Doughnuts are not healthy cooking", and you'd be correct. However, I believe everything in moderation is always a good thing and a doughnut every once in awhile isn't going to kill you. Eating the entire batch, like my family just did, might though.

The recipe I'm about to post was passed down to me from my grandmother and it makes a helluva good cake doughnut. I experimented with them some time ago, and if you want to cut some of the fat in them, then opt for the baking directions.

Without further ado, here's the recipe:

Old Fashioned Doughnuts (yields 8-12 doughnuts plus Munchkins... ahem... doughnut holes

1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp melted butter (you can also use canola oil instead of butter if it's faster or easier)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
6 cups Canola oil for frying*

Preheat oil to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients and roll to 1/2" thickness. Cut with doughnut cutter, setting aside doughnut holes for frying as well. Fry doughnuts and doughnut holes to golden brown on each side and set on paper towels to absorb excess grease. Let cool completely and use toppings of your choice. Or eat them plain.

* If you want to bake the doughnuts and you have a couple of doughnut pans, reduce the flour by 1 cup and pour the dough into lightly oiled pans. Bake 8-10 minutes at 325. They won't be as crispy as the fried doughnuts, but still good.

** If you don't have a deep fryer and you do have a wok, you can heat the oil up over the stove in the wok over medium heat and then check it with a candy thermometer.

If you want to make a simple glaze for topping, use 2 cups confectioner's sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tbsp butter, and start to beat with a wire whisk or mixer. Add 2 tbsp milk and continue beating. Keep adding milk gradually until the consistency of the frosting is not thick, but rather runny and the lumps are gone. (It should probably take 3-4 tbsp milk total to get it there). Dip the doughnuts in and let drip dry on a cooling rack with paper towels underneath.

OK, the pizza dough is now calling me from the bread machine, so I gotta run and get it going. If you like the doughnuts, post a comment and let me know :-)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's Meringue Day!

Don't mind Remy in the picture... he saw the way the pie came out and had to come down to investigate and beg for a piece.

Yes, it's meringue day at my house today as my father is visiting and it's his birthday. He specifically requested a lemon meringue pie instead of a birthday cake. And the minute my child heard the word "meringue", she begged me to make her some meringue cookies. I will be posing recipes for both at the end of this narrative. P.S. These are recipes you just can't modify to make healthier, because Splenda is a vile substance and it won't incorporate into the meringue properly anyway.

Lots of people I speak with are totally intimidated by the thought of making meringue. I think it gets a bad rap. Honestly, it's really not too hard as long as you treat the meringue carefully. By using the tips below, I get a perfect meringue every time.

My Meringue Pointers:

1) Let your eggs come to room temperature before you separate them. Not only will it make separation easier, but the meringue will come together faster.
2) If you have a copper pot in which to whisk the meringue, all the better - the chemistry of the copper also allows the meringue to come together faster.
3) Separate the eggs one at a time, and pour the whites for each egg into a bowl immediately after separating. That way, if you screw up on egg white separation number 5 and some yolk gets in there, you don't end up wasting the other 4 whites.
4) Add the sugar gradually.... and whisk it for one minute in between additions. That gets all that sugar dissolved and incorporated.
5) If you want to use cream of tartar, you can... it's optional. The cream of tartar can provide extra stability to the meringue when finished. It's not a requirement, though.
6) The whites are ready when stiff peaks form. If you are not sure what a stiff peak looks like, it is when you can turn your whisk over and the whites are standing up straight and pointy from the whisk.
7) If you can use a mixer to do this, it will save you a lot of time - one of the many reasons I love my KitchenAid.

That being said, on to the pie recipe.

Lemon Meringue Pie

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
6 tbsp melted butter

Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, melted butter, until well blended and press into an 8 or 9 inch pie plate.
Bake at 375 degrees for 7 minutes and let cool completely.

For the filling:
2 packages My-T-Fine lemon pudding mix
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups water (separate)

Combine pudding mix,1 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup water in saucepan. Beat with a whisk and add egg yolks and an additional cup of water. Keep whisking and cook over medium heat until boiling. Remove from heat and leave in the pan, stirring once. Pour into crust and let cool completely.

For the meringue:
4 egg whites
6 tbsp sugar
pinch cream of tartar (optional)

Beat the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the sugar, 1 tbsp at a time, continually beating the mixture. Add cream of tartar while beating. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Spoon meringue over pie and cover completely, sealing the edges. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
Cool pie for 30 minutes on wire rack and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours to set.

Meringue Cookies

2 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
(Note you an substitute different flavored extracts to make the cookies any flavor you like. If you want to make chocolate chip meringue cookies, fold in 1/4 cup crushed chocolate chips at the end before you spoon onto baking sheets).

Preheat oven to 350. Beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form and meringue is shiny. Fold in extract and any chocolate chips.

Drop with spoon onto foil lined baking sheets. Place in the oven and turn oven OFF. Leave cookies in for a minimum of 4 hours. Peel off foil when done.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Muffins, Muffins, Muffins!

Sorry that the picture of the actual results is a bit dark - I have to mess with my camera some more.

I've been on a search for awhile, looking for the perfect raisin bran muffin to make for the family. I had to modify this one to get it exactly perfect. Who am I kidding? I'm a constant recipe tweaker!

My husband loves bran muffins and takes them to work as snacks. He will eat them plain, which is something I can't do - I prefer mine heated or toasted, cut in half, with a little bit of butter on there.

Bran muffins were actually one of the dishes that Le Spouse made before we got married. The only things he knows how to cook are: pancakes, spaghetti, and raisin bran muffins. The problem with his raisin bran muffins was that he made the recipe that was printed on a box of Kellogg's Raisin Bran. And the muffins that resulted from that recipe were small, inedible, rocklike lumps that I couldn't stand to eat. No offense to the people at Kellogg's, but their recipe needs some serious updating.

I found this recipe from my go-to website, When I want to make something I've never tried before and I'm not quite sure how to go about it, this is the place I go to first. And I always, always find what I'm looking for. I found recipes for arepas (a Venezuelan corn cake that is stuffed with meat and served hot), churros (a Mexican doughnut that is made with a lot of egg, rolled in cinnamon sugar, and served warm; preferably with a cup of hot chocolate), dumplings, apple pie, and even fortune cookies. Yes, I get around in the kitchen; why do you ask?  I just believe that there is nothing that we can't make, and the internet is a great resource to find out how, if you don't know. My mother in law, for some reason, thinks that this is awesome of me. But she hates to cook.

Here is the recipe for these guys... they take a lot of prep time up front, but it's totally worth it in the end.

I'm breaking the ingredients up into groups as they are combined and used differently.

1) 1 cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

Combine all of the above in a mixing bowl and set aside.

2) 3/4 cup milk. Put this in a microwave safe bowl and heat it up for 1 minute. Then add:
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla and whisk it. Then add:
3/4c raisins

Let this sit covered for 10 minutes. Then:

3) melt 8 tbsp of shortening or butter and add it to the milk mixuture. Stir in:
2 cups bran (I shred regular bran flakes for the bran and it works).

Let this sit covered for 10 more minutes. Then:

Take the flour mixture and stir in the bran/raisin/milk mixture. While mixing, add:
2 eggs
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp corn syrup

And mix til moistened. You can make giant muffins (6) or a dozen small ones. Make sure you grease the pans first!

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. (20-25 minutes for the dozen smaller ones, 25-30 minutes for 6 huge ones). They are done when a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to baking rack and cool for an additional 30.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Banana Coffee Bread - Yum!

Does your household suffer from bananas going bad syndrome? This is what I usually make when our bananas reach the stage where they are getting freckles, and on the path to turning full blown brown and no good to anyone.

Now, here is a weird little secret about me: I hate bananas. But I will eat this coffee bread because it's so darn good. Honestly, I think it's a texture thing from childhood because my mother, God love her, used to cook vegetables within inches of their lives until they were limp and colorless, so anything that is mushy is an immediate no-go for me. Which probably explains why I'm not a big fan of fruit - most of it is mushy and stringy and I just can't handle the texture. Anyway, it's rainy and cold here in Southern California, so it's a great day to be baking this - plus we have two bananas that are definitely on their way South.

So, without further ado, here is the banana coffee bread recipe. I must thank my good friend and old boss, Jill Guabello, for sharing this recipe. It's moist and delicious. I have played with it a bit, and based on my experiments with it, you can substitute any nuts you want for the walnuts. I've had success using ground almonds, ground hazelnuts, and ground pecans with this and all options were great. You can also opt not to use nuts at all - my family prefers nuts and it brings the protein in the bread up a notch, so I always use some. It's up to you. I've also substituted applesauce to cut down on the sugar while experimenting, but remember that doing this will increase the baking time to about 45 minutes if you opt for it.

1/2 cup shortening (I use butter-flavored Crisco because it is better than butter cholesterol-wise and seems to have a more stable texture. It also doesn't have such a low scorching point).
1 cup sugar (or 1 cup applesauce)
2 eggs (egg substitute also works here)
3/4 cup ripe mashed banana (about 1 huge or 2 smaller ones)
1 1/4c sifted all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or nuts of your choice)

Preheat the oven to 350. Cream together shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in banana. Sift together dry ingredients and add to the banana mixture, beating well. Pour into greased 9x9x2 inch pan. This is important - you cannot use a loaf pan for this recipe. It doesn't bake all the way through and burns on top if you do. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until the middle doesn't jiggle when you pull out the pan. Top should be golden brown and bread should be set. Toothpick should come out clean when inserted. Cool and slice into approximately 12 squares.

I went on to Fitday to see the calorie cost for this one. As listed, the cake per slice contains 230 calories, 11 grams of fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, 3.2 grams of protein. If you opt to substitute applesauce for the sugar, you will save some calories and carbs. Brings it to: 175 per slice, fat doesn't change, 15 grams carbohydrates, and protein also doesn't change.

Later, oatmeal raisin cookies. Because it's a baking kind of a day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hot Cross Buns!

Hey, it's almost Easter time, and you know what that means: hot cross buns, people!!!

OK, folks, you need to try these if you like breads. The recipe is from Cooking Light magazine, April issue. Pretty easy to follow, and the resulting buns are really quite tasty. They have the texture of a good panettone, and you can taste just a slight hint of the orange/cinnamon/nutmeg combination. The frosting is super-sweet, but there's only a little bit of it and it offsets the other flavors.

Recipe link:

This is a definite keeper, and will make this again (and again). I changed the recipe a bit, as my family doesn't do well with fruit rind or currants. So I doubled the amount of golden raisins, and it worked out just fine. I also didn't use the quick rise yeast the recipe calls for, as I despise using any kind of quick rise yeast in any bread recipes - that stuff makes the dough consistency too dense, the dough tends to rise fast and then flop with no hope of recovery, resulting in a very weird texture, and it will make your bread bake unevenly.

The only issue other people may have with the recipe is the prep time. Make sure you have 3 hours to do these in because that is approximately how long they will take. The end result is worth it, though; I promise!

Two things that I have found over the years that help my breads (any breads, not just the buns): I will only use King Arthur brand flour. I don't know what those folks in Vermont are doing with their milling processes, but it is superior stuff for smooth, consistent breads every time. Yes, I know it costs more, but it's really worth it as you will see from the results you get each and every time you use it in bread recipes. And pizza dough!

I will also only use Fleischmann's yeast - not the rapid rise type, though. Fleishmann's has consistently active cultures and I've never had a problem with it. Another good idea is to keep yeast in the refrigerator, as it stays fresher for longer periods of time than if you keep it at room temperature. The cold retards the active cultures and puts them into a dormant state until you're ready to use the yeast. I've even frozen yeast I've bought in bulk at Sam's Club or Costco and it works great once defrosted.

This recipe rates a solid 5 out of 5 stars for me. I'm not usually a big bread eating person, but I enjoyed these. Good texture, not overpowering flavor, slightly sweet, spicy and fruity. Spring-season tastes!

My family will love these - but Le Spouse is the Big Bread-o-Phile in this household. I sent him a picture of the finished buns, and I could literally feel the drool through the smartphone. He's probably panting to get home and try some. I anticipate a major dent in the 24 buns this recipe yields by bedtime tonight.

Hope you like the recipe, and the picture above is what my results looked like. Oh, the only thing I'd be careful of is the cooking spray in the muffin tins - I'm not sure if it's my oven that did this or what, but the bottoms of the buns are slightly burnt which I don't like. I suspect it's my oven, though - it is newer and I'm still adjusting to its quirks.

I'm currently working on getting a food truck together, so stay tuned - I am finally going to begin the business that I've been dreaming about for years and years.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

It's a Jersey Thing

I'm deviating from my normal food blog containing recipes today to talk about something that is a staple in New Jersey households: Taylor Ham. Or, Taylor Pork Roll. What you call it depends on where in NJ you reside - northern NJ-ers say "Taylor Ham" and southern NJ-ers say "Pork Roll".

It's a Jersey Thing. Now, how can I describe it to you?

It's rolled pork - but it's not ham, not bacon, not Canadian bacon, and not Spam. It's a salty, hammy, bacon-y, porky tasting delicious piece of meat that I miss terribly. To call it Spam would be to imply that it's fatty, which it isn't. To call it bacon would imply that it has smokiness - which it doesn't. It is a mad, flavorful combination of everything that is good from a pig, with salt added to it.

I'm on this rant today about it because my good friend from many years ago, Joanne, sent me a care package containing TWO GIANT ROLLS of the stuff. I'm hoarding one roll in my freezer and I sliced up the second roll this morning and cooked some of it for breakfast.

Normally, people in NJ/NY/PA will eat it on a Kaiser roll with cheese and a fried egg. Some people will also put ketchup on it, but to me that's an abomination. I'd rather taste the ingredients all dancing together on the roll without the ketchup, thanks. You should too, if you are a Taylor Ham Virgin and haven't tried it yet. Then add ketchup later if you really want to put that stuff on your eggs.

People where I reside now in California think I am Taylor Ham Obsessed. Actually, my child does, too. How can I explain my Passion for the Porkiness?

I grew up eating it - it's a childhood memory. Do you remember that scene from the animated movie "Ratatouille" where Remy makes the ratatouille for Anton Ego and he takes one bite and is instantly transported to the farmhouse kitchen of his youth? That's exactly how I feel about Taylor Ham. Great food like this will always give you an out of body experience that transports you somewhere. If it doesn't, it's not worth eating. This is probably why I'm fat, by the way. Waaay too many out of body experiences for my own good.

I picked up the box from my mailbox yesterday and was literally drooling on the way to the car. DD asked me what I was so freaking happy about and I had to tell her it was because this was a giant box of delectable porky goodness and we were going to slice it up and make it last for awhile. She still thinks I'm nuts. And I actually shared two precious slices with her this morning. I AM nuts, I know.

So, to make a proper Taylor Ham sandwich, here is what you need to do:

1) You must find the right roll. I've noticed as I get older, I'm getting more picky about how my food tastes and how it's cooked, or maybe that's just the chef in me coming out. I am disappointed in the rolls out here in the west. You can't find good rolls here. You can find rolls, don't misunderstand me, but the textures are wrong.

Anyway, NJ Kaiser rolls are a wonderful taste experience - a proper one is pretty huge, and has a buttery, flaky crust with poppy seeds baked into it. When you cut into the roll, the inside is a ball of chewy deliciousness. The crust crackles and flakes off when you cut it. I don't know how they do it. I've been trying to duplicate it here for years, and suspect it has to do with the humidity level difference and having a proofer to use when making the dough. I've come close, but I still haven't succeeded in getting it exactly right. I'm seriously considering finding a resource so I can import them.

2) The cheese must be the deli style fresh cheese. None of that processed shit, please, or I'll have to hunt you down and kill you. It must be cheddar cheese, preferably a slice of deli style yellow American. Two slices on the sandwich.

3) Fry the egg over medium - you don't want yolk running all over the place, but if you prefer your eggs like that, go for it. I don't like the mess. Salt and pepper the egg very lightly.

4) In order to cook the Taylor Ham, you need to cut 4 little notches around the edges. If you don't, the center will puff up in the pan and the slices will look like little hammy hats. Which is cute, but then your meat isn't cooking properly. They should be lightly browned.

Assemble the sandwich on said Kaiser roll, slice it in half and serve it hot.

Oh my, a little slice of Heaven.

Now go forth and find yourself some of this stuff. DO IT! DO IT NOW!